The Spanish conquest of Petén

Article

January 20, 2022

The Petén conquest was the final stage in the conquest of Guatemala, a protracted conflict caused by the Spanish conquest of America. Petén is a broad plain of lowlands covered with dense rainforest, which includes a central catchment area with many lakes and some areas of savannah. The plain is crossed by a series of low karst ridges, which rise to the south near the Guatemalan Highlands. Petén, a region now included in the Republic of Guatemala, reached its zenith in 1679 after Martín de Urzua's capture of Nojpetín, also known as Tayasal, the capital of the Itza kingdom. With the defeat of the Itza, the last independent and undefeated Maya stronghold in Central America succumbed to European invaders. Prior to the conquest, Petén had a large population, made up of various Maya peoples, especially around the central lakes and along the rivers. Petén was divided into various Maya chiefdoms, involved in a complex web of alliances and enmities. The most important groups centered around the central lakes were the Itza, Yalin, and Kouh. Other groups whose territory was located in Petén included: the Quijachis, the Acalas, the Choles de Lacandon, the Chocumos, the Chinamitas, the Ecachis, and the Choles del Manche. Hernán Cortes was the first European to conquer Petén, leading a significant expedition that crossed the lands from north to south in 1525. In the first half of the sixteenth century, Spain established colonies adjacent to Petén in Yucatan[?] to the north and Guatemala to the south. From 1596 onwards, Spanish missionaries began laying the foundations for the expansion of the colonial administration at the southern tip of Petén, but there was no further Spanish intervention in central Petén until 1918 and 1919, when missionaries arrived in the capital Itza, after traveling from the Spanish colonial capital of Mérida in Yucatan State. In 1622, a military expedition reached Yucatan, led by the commander Francisco de Miróns and accompanied by the Franciscan friar Diego Delgado, and this campaign became a disaster for the Spaniards; who were massacred by the Itza. In 1628, Menche de Manche in the south was placed under the administration of the colonial governor at Verapaz, as part of the Guatemalan General Command. Five years later, in 1733, the Ch'ol de Manche rebelled against Spanish rule to no avail. In 1695, another military expedition, this time from Guatemala, was sent towards Lake Petén Itza. Missionaries from Mérida followed in 1696. In 1697, a special expedition led by Martín de Urzua from Yucatan resulted in the final defeat of the independent kingdoms in central Petén.

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